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Washington State Q&A/Sun Bowl Preview with Coug Center

How good is QB Luke Falk? Which other players on WSU should 'Canes fans be worried about? Who wins the game come 12/26? For all that and more we caught up with Jeff Nusser from our sister site, Coug Center.

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Full Q&A Below:


SOTU: In Mike Leach's 4 year tenure in Pullman, this has clearly been his best.  What is the current perception of Leach among Washington State fans?  How successful does he need to be to satisfy the fan base?  Is there additional pressure with Chris Petersen now at Washington?

CC: It's been a crazy season on this front, which has sort of mirrored the entire Leach administration. His hiring came with greater fanfare than any other in program history -- three of our previous four coaches (Dennis Erickson, Mike Price and Paul Wulff) came from the Division I-AA/FCS level, while the fourth was a promoted defensive coordinator (Bill Doba). People were incredibly excited that WSU was finally playing with the big boys by landing a famous coach.

Then came the first season, a 3-9 mess that included numerous player defections amid allegations of coach abuse. (Which a pair of investigations would ultimately prove to be unfounded.) It wasn't what we thought we were getting. Then, the team made it to a low-level bowl game in his second season, giving us all hope that thing were on the upswing. They weren't: 2014 provided another 3-9 season, leaving 2015 as a "prove to us you're worth all this money" season.

Disaster strikes: A season-opening loss to FCS Portland State. People are panicking. Many want Leach gone; others are wondering if that's even a possibility, given the financial commitment to him by the school.  This team absolutely needed to make a bowl game to convince fans the program was headed in the right direction, and when you lose to an FCS school and look horrible doing it ... well, it was awfully hard to look at the schedule and find six wins in the final 11 games.

And then it turned around. Not all at once; the win against Rutgers was nice (but we knew the Scarlet Knights were a mess), the win against hapless Wyoming was pretty "meh," and the loss to California was filled with the same kinds of errors that had plagued the team for years. But a surprising overtime win over Oregon seemed to change everything, and from there, the team has been on a roll (Apple Cup notwithstanding), giving fans incredible hope that the program is finally what it was promised to be.

All that to say: This eight-win season has satisfied just about everyone, and with the youth on the roster -- including one of the best quarterbacks in the conference, if not the country -- fans are incredibly excited about what's in the future.

SOTU: For those around the country who have not yet seen All PAC-12 QB Luke Falk in action, describe his game for us.   Is he reminiscent of any NFL or other major college QB?    What makes him so good?

CC: Falk is one of the coolest customers you'll ever see. Nothing really seems to rattle the kid, and when you combine that with his tremendous understanding of the Air Raid, he becomes simply lethal. He's improved an incredible amount this season, his first as starter -- Falk has gone from holding onto the ball too long and reacting to the defense, which led to a high number of sacks (and fumbles) early on, to someone who now anticipates windows and attacks all parts of the field.

One thing you'll notice is that he has an incredibly low number of interceptions for the number of passes he's attempted; you'll rarely see him try and fit a ball into a small space. He's deadly accurate, he delivers the ball on time, and he's incredibly tough.

It's hard to compare him to anyone in the NFL, because he doesn't have the biggest arm (although it's certainly strong enough to make all the throws required of him). I will say that he idolizes Tom Brady and tries to pattern himself after the Patriots QB, so maybe you'll see a little of that?

SOTU: Same question,  but replace Falk with WR Gabe Marks.  What makes him so prolific and special?

CC: Ruthless efficiency and complete fearlessness. Marks is a tremendous route runner with incredible hands who will make catches in traffic. He's not the fastest guy on the field, but he can spin unsuspecting DBs so bad that he's sometimes uncoverable for long stretches of games. As his Twitter handle says, just @throwitupto9 and he's almost certainly going to haul it in -- his 70 percent catch rate is superb for an outside receiver who isn't a massive target.

SOTU:  Give me one other offensive weapon for 'Canes fans to watch aside from Falk and Marks.  Who are a few of the key defensive players on the Cougars for 'Canes fans to watch out for as well?

CC: The offense has a ton of offensive weapons, and I could wax poetic about each of them for a while. In lieu of that, I'll highlight a guy who can hit you with an explosive play: running back Keith Harrington, who is from St. Petersburg. He's part of WSU's three-headed monster in the backfield, along with Gerard Wicks (a battering ram who will get most of the carries) and Jamal Morrow. A running back in high school, Harrington came to WSU expecting to be a receiver, but he lit up scout team defenses so much as a running back that they decided to keep him there. He's prone to fumbles, but when he gets in the open field, he is absolutely electric.

As for the defense? In no particular order, Destiny Vaeao, Shalom Luani and Hercules Mata'afa are guys to know. Vaeao (pronounced VIE-ow) is a disruptive defensive lineman who doesn't put up a bunch of big stats, but he'll blow up what you want to do a significant amount of the time. Luani is a hard hitting safety who plays downhill. Mata'afa is a redshirt freshman who specializes in rushing the quarterback. All will likely make some plays against a team that likes to throw the ball.

SOTU:   Are there any players or match-ups on Miami that concern you?

CC: I'm not that familiar with Miami's personnel, but it seems like they have a talented secondary. The Air Raid generally will produce passing yards no matter who's defending it, but it will be fun to see the battle between WSU's receivers -- who go eight deep and come at defenses in waves -- and Miami's defensive backfield.

SOTU:   Last but certainly not least, prediction time.   Who wins and why?

CC: These seem like two pretty evenly matched teams. I expect a high scoring and entertaining game in which Luke Falk's fourth quarter heroics get WSU its ninth win.

While we definitely do not agree with Jeff's prediction, we thank him for giving us the scoop on the Cougars.

For all things Washington State be sure to drop by Coug Center.